Boomers Worked (and Worked) for The Man

Mister Boomer has explored many things that have changed since the heyday of the Boomer Era, and now here’s one more: workplace loyalty. As boomers entered the full-time workforce in the sixties and seventies, their attitudes toward employers and the workplace was relatively unchanged from what was put forth by their parents’ generation. That is, if you worked hard for an employer, you could stay a lifetime — throughout your working career. In return, your employer would take care of your interests with a living wage, healthcare, and a benefits package that included a pension on retirement. It was a reciprocal loyalty arrangement that went on after the War until the 1980s.

Fifty years ago nearly three-quarters of workers received some sort of pension from their employers. The idea had always been that a pension, plus Social Security, would sustain a retiree and dependents the remainder of their lives. Today that figure has flipped to less than one quarter. Some union and government jobs are the last remaining strongholds for individual worker pensions. What happened?

Most observers point to a variety of reasons for the change, including globalization, the dismantling of unions and chiefly, healthy companies cutting their workforce in the 1980s as a means of increasing shareholder value. Automation and outsourcing completed the picture — along with cuts in benefits like contributions to 401(K) plans, healthcare payments and pensions. Employers stated loud and clear that they would no longer be loyal (in the Boomer Era sense) to their employees. As a result, for many boomers, and subsequent generations, employees do not feel they have a compelling reason to stay with any given company for the duration of their working lives. Consequently, the stage was set for an increasingly high turnover rate. Some studies indicate that the average company experiences a twenty to fifty percent loss of employees who are changing jobs each year.

Today’s generation believes they must take control of their own working life because they have no other basis from which to work. It’s not that boomers wanted to be taken care of; on the contrary, we wanted to control our own destinies as well. It’s just that working used to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. That is changing rapidly. This translates to frequent jobs changes, which average every three to five years.

Evidently, Mister Boomer happens to be one of those last remaining long-term employees. He’s put in more than three decades with his current employer. Fortunately, he has not stayed in the same job description for the duration. Mister B actually did try to leave twice, but ended up not moving to another job. Despite his and his co-workers’ loyalty, his employer, as a small firm, provides some benefits, but certainly not a pension.

Like many boomers, Mister B still feels he can make vital contributions to the workforce. However, agism runs rampant in Mister B’s experience. Companies would rather hire fresh young faces than wrinkled remnants of a generation who once itself said, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” As time goes by, perhaps boomers will be given that second-chapter chance. If everyone keeps changing jobs so quickly, a boomer who feels he or she has a good five, ten or fifteen years of concentrated energy to devote to an employer should be an asset in hiring.

Are — or were — you part of the multi-decade loyalists in the workforce, boomers?

Mister Boomer Assisted a Protest

A nationwide movement to raise awareness and minimum wages for full-time workers, especially in the fast food industry, among others, has been in the news lately. That prompted Mister Boomer to recall his first minimum wage job, and how he became involved in his first protest at that job.

Mister B got the job in the summer before his senior year in high school. Like many boomers before him, he would start his working career at minimum wage, in a fast food burger joint. Less than one month into the job, he was confronted by a disgruntled employee, asking him for support in his grievances. This boy, a college kid, was employed full-time during the summer and had some serious allegations against the manager and assistant manager. He alleged kids at the age of sixteen were working later than the time allowed by law; that kids were working without their required health certificates; that kids were not being given their legally mandated rest times; and most egregious, that kids were being clocked out before their work was finished. For good measure, the boy felt he deserved a raise, along with all the people who worked until 1:00 am, like Mister Boomer. Mister B listened to the boy, and concluded that if the allegations he mentioned were in fact city, state and national violations, then they should be brought to light. Mister Boomer was all about people playing by the rules, and he had witnessed these circumstances first hand. Mister Boomer had met his first whistleblower.

Since the workers were fearful of retribution should they become visibly vocal, the boy became a relentless bulldog, and latched on to Mister B and his coworkers to try to spark some sort of protest about the allegations. His proposed attack was two-fold: first, he wanted to go to the Labor Relations Board and file a report, and second, he wanted all of the workers to participate in a walkout. Reluctantly agreeing to go along with the first part of his plan, the boy drove to the Labor Relations Board with Mister B and two others of his co-workers. There he did file a report. One of the other boys signed on as a witness. Mister Boomer remained silent.

The second part of the plan is where Mister Boomer tossed in his two cents. The plan was very loose, but called for a walkout at a designated time. Mister Boomer and most of his coworkers were more than hesitant about this action. Mister B pointed out that if the group followed the plan, they had no leverage with the company and it would probably result in immediate dismissal. Instead, Mister B offered a suggestion. Two weeks from the time of the report filing, the company had planned a giant “buy one, get one free” weekend promotion. Mister Boomer suggested a visible protest line a few hours before the promotion launch was set. No one would stop working, just employees not scheduled would be on the line. A call to a local TV station could get some coverage for the cause that same day during the evening news. After an hour or so, the picket line would disappear as the point would have been made. This plan was agreed on and everyone was sworn to secrecy.

As in any situation, people are of different temperaments and orders of agreement, so it was that one boy ran to the manager with the info in hand before any further timing could be worked out. As the following day was a Saturday, the manager called an emergency meeting at 8:00 am. The manager, flanked by his assistant, got straight to the point. It was through gritted teeth that he announced that he knew of the protest plan and the allegations. In exchange for canceling the protest, all legal requirements would immediately be followed, and no, no one was getting a raise. He ended the meeting saying he expected each person to show up to work their scheduled hours, and enthusiastically support the company’s promotion that was expected to increase traffic flow.

Just when Mister Boomer thought the matter was over and he got up to walk home, the assistant manager called him over. “Ché Boomer,” he called him, referring to the Bolivian revolutionary who was killed by law enforcement in Bolivia in 1967. Ché Guevara had become an international symbol of revolution and something of a folk hero, with his image emblazoned on T-shirts sported by many in the counter culture. “You are very lucky,” he continued, “the manager first wanted to fire the whole lot of you.” Mister Boomer must’ve looked puzzled because he didn’t recall instigating anything, yet it sounded like he was being fingered as the mastermind. Mister Boomer had been a model employee, but from then on, was referred to as “Ché” by the assistant manager.

The workers had won. Once this manager was confronted with his alleged illegal actions, everything was made right. Mister Boomer did learn, though, that even though right was right, sometimes it is best to discuss a situation before heading straight for a full-blown protest. Yet he knew from then on that he wouldn’t hesitate to protest something he believed in. When school started in the fall, Mister Boomer quit the job and worked on the school newspaper instead.

When did you first have a work grievance, boomers, and how did you resolve it?